Though Italian golfers used to be reluctant to leave Italy and their mothers’ cooking, that predilection no longer seems to apply. Today, Italians are more at home on the European Tour than they have ever been, with the 30-year-old Andrea Pavan the latest in the news after winning the recent BMW International Open in Munich. He won it the hard way, holding his nerve to make a winning birdie against Matt Fitzpatrick at the second extra hole.
It goes without saying that the current buzz on the Italian scene has plenty to do with Francesco Molinari’s 2018 Open Championship victory at Carnoustie but, as Pavan suggested, it had its origins in that day in December 2014 when Italy won the bid to host the 2022 Ryder Cup at Rome’s Marco Simone Golf and Country Club. “We didn’t expect it,” he told GGP, “but it’s a glorious opportunity for Rome and for golf. If it all works out, golf in Italy could finally become a game for all.”
Early on, there were plenty of rumours flying around as to whether the match was really going to happen because of the expense. However, the government signed off on a financial guarantee in 2017, while Pavan and his fellow Italians were given the further reassurances they wanted – predominantly about progress to the course – at the recent Betfred British Masters.
With Molinari leading the way, they had called for a meeting with Guy Kinnings, the No 2 to European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley. Molinari and Pavan apart, the group of seven or eight included Guiso Migliozzi, the winner of this year’s Magical Kenya Open and Belgian Knockout.
“They reached out to me,” said Kinnings. ”They wanted to know how things were going and you could tell at once that they were not just great golfers but great ambassadors.” He saw them as being in the same impressive mould as Matteo Manassero, who, at 16, was chosen to address the Olympic Committee about golf’s return to the Games. “They’ve asked for regular updates and they’ve made it clear that they want to be involved in the build-up. I have assured them that once we have worked out our marketing plan, they will be. As I’ve said, they’re a great bunch.”
“For myself, I can only dream of playing (the Ryder Cup) in Rome and of an opening ceremony which might just take place in the Vatican.” – Andrea Pavan
Pavan, who is not untypical among his golfing compatriots in being fluent in Italian, Spanish and English, used to play at Marco Simone in his school days and has fond memories of the club hosting the 1994 Italian Open when he was no more than 5 years of age. “It’s all taking longer than anticipated but Guy told us that everything is set for the Italian Open to be held back there in ’21, the year before the match,” Pavan said. (It will be a very different course to the one Pavan knew in that Jeremy Slessor and Dave Sampson from European Golf Design have been utilising the significant space around the property to make the venue a perfect fit for a Ryder Cup.)
When asked about the Italians’ changing attitude towards golf overall, Pavan said that much of it was down to Tiger Woods. Where once parents had preferred their sons to take aim on a more traditional profession, they suddenly started to see golf as an alternative, though the Molinari parents still called for Francesco and his brother Edoardo to have a degree “just in case.”
Pavan got off to a flying start in that, at a time when it was all still seen as a tad risky, he had a father who was a pilot and a mother who was a stewardess. They would take the family all over the world and never raised any objections when Andrea accepted a golf scholarship at Texas A&M. “My friends in Rome were shocked when I decided to go away but I was never homesick.”
He turned pro in 2010 and after seven hard years of switching between the Challenge and European tours, he finished second at the qualifying school of 2017, and went on to win the 2018 D+D Real Czech Masters. At that, he realised that he was good enough to stay put on the main circuit.
“When you arrive in that company, you look around and you get to realise that top players don’t do everything the same. I learned how the best guys had got on tour through playing ‘their’ way, and that it was not the end of the world if my driving was still a bit of an Achilles heel.” In Munich, he got round that weakness at the second play-off hole (the par-5 18th) by taking a 3-wood off the tee and catching the green in three with an exquisite pitching wedge – a shot which reminded him that he has what it takes to produce his best golf under pressure.
In May, when I asked about the Ryder Cup, Pavan said that Molinari was the only Italian with a real chance of making the side of ’22. “For myself,” he said, “I can only dream of playing in Rome and of an opening ceremony which might just take place in the Vatican.”
Since Munich, Pavan’s dream will have become less far-fetched.
Andrea Pavan of Italy celebrates his BMW International Open playoff victory with his caddie on June 23. Photo: Stuart Franklin, Getty Images
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